University alumnus fuses blogging with research
Typically regarded as an exclusive group, scientists are taking their work out of the laboratory and into the blogosphere.
Aatish Bhatia, an alumnus of the Rutgers doctoral physics program, has spent the last two years explaining scientific topics on his blog, “Empirical Zeal.”
His blog focuses on discoveries and ideas that tie together biology and physics, he said. Examples from his blog include explanations on volcanic activity and the motion of sperm.
“I cover the bits that blow my mind,” he writes on the blog’s introductory page.
In 2012, Bhatia’s blog won the 3 Quarks Daily Top Quarks Prize in science. The Scientific American Books collection featured his piece “What it feels like for a sperm” as a part of The Best Science Writing Online 2012.
In another post, “The physics of that ‘kickalicious kick,” he analyzes the physics behind the video of a Norwegian man’s kicks during an NFL tryout for the New York Jets. He uses basic algebra and graphs to track the ball’s trajectory in the air.
Byliner.com’s 102 Spectacular Nonfiction Stories from 2012 and Longform’s Best Science Stories of 2012 have also acknowledged his work.
“Empirical Zeal” is moving to the science blog network of Wired.com, an online technology magazine, he said.
Currently, Wired’s science blog network hosts 10 other bloggers, and has more than 14,400 followers on Twitter. Wired attracts an average of 76,271,080 page views per month, according to its website.
Bhatia began his blogging career under the influence of popular science books and Discover magazine blogs like Ed Yong’s “Not Exactly Rocket Science” and Carl Zimmer’s “The Loom.”
The blogs exposed Bhatia to biology, a field he said he knew little about during his time as a graduate student.
This influenced him to shift his research focus toward how natural selection impacts different organisms.
“The idea really is to show people that there’s neat science behind seemingly mundane things,” he said.
Bhatia said the desire to communicate science from daily experiences grew out of the philosophy he embraced while teaching at Rutgers and earning his graduate degree.
“Science isn’t dry textbook stuff. … [I] try and make connections between fields, and connect classroom learning to real life experiences,” he said.
In the spring of 2013, he taught a course that required students to blog under the guidance of physics faculty members Michael Manhart, Deepak Iyer, Simon Knapen and Bhatia himself.
He said the most important part about incorporating blogging into his class was the feedback students received from their peers and instructors.
“Some of the students were really able to take full advantage of the blog medium and demonstrate creativity,” he said.
Bhatia said academics have traditionally attached a negative stigma to blogging, but scientists and active bloggers like Sean Carroll and Jonathon Eisen are proving otherwise.
He said most science bloggers write because it is fun and rewarding to connect to an audience.
“After all, we’re all sharing the cost of science through our taxes, so it’s only fair that more people should share the intellectual rewards that come out of it,” he said.
This semester, Bhatia extended his outreach as an educator as well. At the beginning of September, he began his position as the associate director of engineering education at the Council on Science and Technology at Princeton University.
The council’s mission is to ensure all of the university’s students can think like scientists, according to its website. The council focuses on humanities and social sciences majors especially.
“We want people to care about [science] and realize it’s important,” he said.